The Surprising Love Life of the Fig

This is a reblog from the NewYorker.com. Please follow the link to read the complete article. Who knew fig reproduction was so unusual? 

Bite a fig in half and you’ll discover a core of tiny blossoms.

All kinds of critters, not only humans, frequent fig trees, but the plants owe their existence to what may be evolution’s most intimate partnership between two species. Because a fig is actually a ball of flowers, it requires pollination, but because the flowers are sealed, not just any bug can crawl inside. That task belongs to a minuscule insect known as the fig wasp, whose life cycle is intertwined with the fig’s. Mother wasps lay their eggs in an unripe fig. After their offspring hatch and mature, the males mate and then chew a tunnel to the surface, dying when their task is complete. The females follow and take flight, riding the winds until they smell another fig tree. (One species of wasp, in Africa, travels ten times farther than any other known pollinator.)

When the insects discover the right specimen, they go inside and deposit the pollen from their birthplace. Then the females lay new eggs, and the cycle begins again. For the wasp mother, however, devotion to the fig plant soon turns tragic. A fig’s entranceway is booby-trapped to destroy her wings, so that she can never visit another plant. When you eat a dried fig, you’re probably chewing fig-wasp mummies, too.

The fig and the fig wasp are a superlative example of what biologists call codependent evolution. The plants and insects have been growing old together for more than sixty million years. Almost every species of fig plant—more than seven hundred and fifty in total—has its own species of wasp. But codependence hasn’t made them weak, like it can with humans. The figs and fig wasps’ pollination system is extremely efficient compared with that of other plants, some of which just trust the wind to blow their pollen where it needs to go. And the figs’ specialized flowers, far from isolating them in an evolutionary niche, have allowed them to …

Continue reading at the New Yorker

 

Today in the Garden: Surprise Gifts

I went to the garden the other day for solitude. To my surprise, five children under 7 ran up alongside my car, squealing about the dogs and can we play with them?

Two girls and three boys were looking for something to do while their families set up for a big wedding at the community center. They chased the dogs in happy circles and were hugely comical trying to help me move the heavy wheelbarrow with a flat tire. They were so eager!

A fellow gardener had ordered a truckload of leaf mulch and my mission was to spread this wonderful black soil around my irises, radishes, spinach, broccoli, red cabbage and day lilies. I had lots of help. There was great competition for the big shovel. Then everyone wanted their own trowel, so more were found.

“Tuck those plants in, put that nice black blanket around them, like your mommy tucks you in at night.” And so they spread the leaf-gro around the young plants then helped me water.

Before they left, I showed them how to pull a carrot. One of my all time favorite things is to watch a child discover a natural miracle. It’s so rewarding to see the astonishment on their bright faces when the familiar orange food comes out of the soil, and after hosing off the bright orange root, they experience the taste of real food.

I was looking for solitude when I went to the garden. But I received a different kind of gift. I guess we don’t always know what we need, until we get it.